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Executive Summary for October 4th

We review the key developments in Syria, including ISIS claiming a suicide attack on Damascus, Russia reporting its airstrikes wounded Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham’s leader in Syria, and Turkey saying it is trying to lure rebels in Idlib away from the jihadi-led HTS alliance.

Published on Oct. 4, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

ISIS Claims Damascus Terror Attack

The so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility on Tuesday for a suicide attack on a police station in the Syrian capital, the Associated Press reported.

A statement released by the ISIS-run Aamaq news agency said militants were behind the bombing that killed at least 17 people in the al-Midan neighborhood on Monday.

The statement did not provide any further details.

The ISIS attack comes after the group has experienced months of defeats and battlefield setbacks in the war-torn country. It has all but lost its former de-facto capital of Raqqa, where U.S.-backed forces are now moving to drive militants from a few remaining districts.

In eastern Syria, pro-government forces breached a three-year militant siege on parts of Deir Ezzor city last month and are now trying to encircle militants in the provincial capital.

ISIS responded to advances in eastern Syria by launching a widescale counteroffensive last week on government-held positions along the Palmyra–Deir Ezzor highway.

On Tuesday, ISIS released a video purporting to show two Russian troops who were allegedly captured by militants during last week’s counteroffensive, Reuters reported.

In the 42-second video released on Aamaq news agency, one of the two hostages says he was taken during the ISIS counterattack.

Russia has denied that any of its soldiers have been captured by the militant group.

Russia: Al-Qaida Leader Wounded in Syria

The leader of an al-Qaida-linked militant alliance in Syria was wounded by Russian airstrikes this week, a spokesman for Moscow’s defense ministry said on Wednesday, according to the AP.

Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that Abu Mohammad al-Julani, the head of the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance, was injured in an air raid on Tuesday that targeted a gathering of the group’s leaders in Syria.

Al-Julani was announced as interim head of HTS over the weekend, after the resignation of his predecessor, Abu Jaber al-Shaykh. He previously led Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaida’s former branch in Syria. He was then a commander in Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), a group formed when Nusra publicly separated from al-Qaida.

Fifty militants were also killed in Tuesday’s attack, Konashenkov said.

The spokesman did not disclose the location of the strike but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Tuesday that an HTS military base in Idlib was targeted with at least 23 airstrikes, according to the AP.

Russia has been carrying out an intense aerial campaign targeting HTS militants in Idlib in recent weeks after a contingent of its military police came under attack by the group in Hama province last month.

Separately, Russia said on Tuesday that it has killed more than 300 ISIS fighters and wounded at least 200 others this week in airstrikes outside Deir Ezzor city, on the eastern banks of the Euphrates river, the AP reported.

Turkey Seeking to Isolate al-Qaida in Idlib

Turkey’s foreign minister said his country is trying to separate moderate rebels from al-Qaida-linked HTS jihadis in Idlib as a step toward enforcing a de-escalation zone agreement in the area, Reuters reported.

Reuters said that Mevlut Cavusoglu’s comments on Tuesday corroborated remarks by an unidentified rebel source, who claimed that foreign states are trying to encourage defections from the HTS alliance. Their purported aim is to break up the group, isolate it and reduce its capacity to oppose planned Turkish military deployment in the province.

Moscow, Tehran and Ankara agreed last month to deploy observers to prevent fighting between pro-government forces and Syrian rebels in Idlib province. Representatives of the three states who attended talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana said that their observers would be positioned in “safe zones” established on the border of the Idlib de-escalation zone.

HTS, the dominant military and political force in Idlib, has rejected the agreement and has vowed to continue fighting the Syrian government and its allies in Idlib.

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